Monday, November 10, 2008

Shedding Light After Blood

True to his nom de guerre, Maoist leader Mohan Baidya ‘Kiran’ has been shedding light on burning national issues. “There is nothing special about Nepal-India relations,” the man widely considered the ideological mentor of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said at a public function the other day.
That affirmation, to be sure, lacked the teeth of Prime Minister Kirti Nidhi Bista’s response four decades ago to Indian Foreign Minister Dinesh Singh’s declaration of “special” bilateral relations. Bista’s statement was the precursor to the withdrawal of Indian military checkpoints along the Nepal-China border and the Indian military liaison team in Kathmandu.
Baidya’s comment followed Dahal’s assertion that Nepal had reached a place akin to the post-interval phase of a Hindi movie. But Baidya’s sights probably went back to the premier’s touting of bilateral relations as special all but in name during his last visit to India.
Having positioned himself firmly at the helm of Maoist hardliners, Baidya has gradually emerged as the real leader of the opposition. Ordinarily, that role should have gone to Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala. But the same internal wrangling that forestalled the election of a legislative leader, allowing Koirala to retain his preeminent position, would undercut his performance.
Baidya, on the other hand, appears to have used his party’s internal rifts to bolster its ideological regimentation. He stepped down as a member of the Constituent Assembly to put pressure on the Maoists in power. He then became the principal critic of the view that the Maoists drop their formal ties to the Great Helmsman by changing the party name. For now, Dahal, Finance Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’ may seem perched on the same precarious branch. Baidya’s calculated campaign to widen their rifts is all too apparent.
Certainly, the nationalist plank has come in handy for the Baidya faction. Yet the man’s politics have guided his pronouncements for quite some time. Picked up by Indian authorities from an eye clinic in Silguri in early 2004, Baidya’s disillusionment with New Delhi is understandable. He was not, say, a Chandra Prakash Gajurel who was trying to board a flight to London from Madras on a forged passport months earlier. If humanitarianism had any place in Indian asylum policy, Baidya could only have seen himself as the perfect candidate.
At the operational level, the arrests of Baidya and Gajurel robbed Dahal of two allies. The Maoists’ nationalist wing, rumored to be close to an alliance with the palace to safeguard nationalism, eventually had to go along with the pragmatist (read: pro-Indian) faction, a confluence that led to the November 2005 12-point accord with the mainstream parties signed in New Delhi.
After Dahal began sounding conciliatory – often obsequious – overtures to Delhi as the peace process unfolded, he had to mollify his party. Dahal claimed that without his ‘pragmatism’, Delhi would never have freed Baidya and Gajurel. The irony there was that Baidya had become the most vocal critic of Dahal’s India policy.
And that has continued in full force since the premier wooed and wowed Indians during his Delhi trip. So much so that wider public curiosity has been building in advance of Dahal’s upcoming second visit to India. (Ironically, this has centered on more stringent extradition provisions, the absence of which allowed Dahal & Co. to survive subterraneously, mostly on the other side of the border, for so long.)
Baidya’s call for nationalists and communists to join hands to safeguard Nepalese independence has acquired greater resonance amid recent calls for a referendum on the integration of the two armies should political parties fail to build consensus. Would it be wide of the mark to expect a longer checklist of issues pertaining to Nepali sovereignty, territorial integrity and independent identity on any such ballot initiative?